No Satisfaction Zaps Motivation, Psychologist Says

May 24, 2007

You can't always get what you want, as the song goes, but if a Florida State University researcher's new theory on motivation holds true, you may not want it anymore anyway.

Francis Eppes Professor Roy Baumeister, a renowned social psychologist, has conducted several experiments to learn how satisfaction influences motivation. Baumeister will present his theory at the annual convention of the Association for Psychological Science being held May 24-27 in Washington, D.C.

At the heart of Baumeister's theory is the idea that humans adapt to want what they can get. It goes something like this: When we want something and get it, the subsequent feeling of satisfaction reinforces and increases the strength of that desire when it returns. Conversely, chronically unsatisfied desires may diminish the intensity of motivation.

"Obviously, we want much that we cannot get, but gradually we want these things a little less," Baumeister said. "It's the 'getting' that begets wanting."

Standard theories of motivation hold that satisfaction reduces subsequent motivational drive. But three experiments conducted by Baumeister and colleagues indicated otherwise.

In one experiment, participants were asked to work a crossword puzzle or play a hand-held video game, and in another, participants were asked to take 15-minute naps on four out of eight days. In a third experiment, participants were asked to read the top news stories on a popular Web site for two weeks. The follow-up to the experiments showed that getting people to engage in an activity led them to want to perform the activity more over time.

This theory of motivation may even explain certain addictive behavior, Baumeister said.

"Addiction may be typical of many motivations, and, in fact, may be less a special case than a common pattern," Baumeister said. "In addiction, getting leads to more wanting. One example is alcohol: Most people can live without it before they discover it, and getting pleasure from it does increase the wanting. Why this process stops short of all-out addiction for some people and not others we don't know."

The second part of Baumeister's theory holds that social and cultural factors may shape motivation more strongly when the motivation is weak. The best example of this, according to Baumeister, is that female sexuality is more affected than male sexuality by social and cultural factors because the female sex drive is less intense. By contrast, women have a stronger desire to take care of children, most people believe, and the mother role changes far less with social and cultural factors than the father role.

The study of motivation is important because psychology boils down to two things: wanting and thinking. Most research in recent decades has focused on the thinking component, cognition, while little attention has been paid to the wanting component, or motivation, according to Baumeister.

Understanding what motivates people could eventually help psychologists more effectively treat certain patients, Baumeister said.

Source: Florida State University

Explore further: Self-regulation intervention boosts school readiness of at-risk children, study shows

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The psychology of baseball

Mar 31, 2007

It’s the seventh game of the World Series — bottom of the ninth inning, your team is down 4-3 with runners on second and third — and you’re on deck. You watch as your teammate gets the second out. That means you’re ...

Recommended for you

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

Could there be a bright side to depression?

Nov 21, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A group of researchers studying the roots of depression has developed a test that leads them closer to the idea that depression may actually be an adaptation meant to help people cope with ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.